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Newsline - November 1, 2007

President Vladimir Putin said on October 31 at a meeting of the Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation in Moscow that Russia will not permit anyone to restrict its arms exports, Russian and international media reported. The United States often criticizes Russian arms sales to countries such as Iran, Syria, and Venezuela (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15 and 30, 2007). Rosoboroneksport is the main state arms dealer, whose biggest customers are China and India. Arms sales are one of several tools that Putin uses to demonstrate Russia's claim to world-power status, even though its technology is not always the most advanced. Putin said on October 31 that "Russia has always complied and will continue to comply rigorously with all international obligations in the military-technical field, particularly the existing export-control regulations. At the same time, we cannot and will not take into consideration any attempts to impose any restrictions on us based on unilateral or politicized judgments." He acknowledged that the quality of Russian technology must be improved if arms exports are to grow. Putin said that "the confidence of foreign partners in the potential of our military technology and our armed forces depends directly on [improvement]. If the quality is better, then confidence will be higher, and our arms and technology will be more in demand on the world market, and the activities of our army and navy will be more effective." The Gazprom-owned daily "Izvestia" commented on November 1 that growing arms sales are a means by which "Russia puts pressure on the Americans." The article drew attention to Putin's remarks on improving the quality of military technology. PM

Kremlin deputy spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on October 31 that recent U.S.-Russian talks on missile defense were "quite constructive" and added that "rumors of a Cold War are groundless," Russian and international media reported. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on October 31 that Russia is still waiting for detailed, written proposals from the United States on missile defense, along the lines of those that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently made orally in Moscow, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 24, and October 22, 24, and 25, 2007). Kamynin also stressed Russia's long-standing position that its offer to share radar facilities at Qabala (Gabala) in Azerbaijan is an alternative to the proposed U.S. missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, not a supplement to it. He noted that Washington is continuing missile-defense negotiations with Warsaw and Prague, which, Kamynin suggested, "gives the impression that the United States wants to make the implementation of its plans irreversible." On October 31, the daily "Vremya novostei" wrote that "Russia and the United States seem to be in a kind of long-distance missile-defense contest. A Russian short-range missile interceptor was test-launched [on October 30] and struck its target on schedule. The Americans performed a successful [missile-defense] test over the Pacific on October 28" in the latest of a series of tests by both countries. On October 31, General Vladimir Verkhovtsev of the Defense Ministry's 12th Main Directorate, which is in charge of nuclear weapons, wrote in the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" that "the situation to the south of our borders is quite complicated. We border on nuclear powers, and therefore the fact that Russia possesses tactical nuclear weapons serves as a factor deterring potential aggressors." PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Moscow on October 31 after returning from Iran that Russia remains opposed to recently announced U.S. sanctions against that country, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007). He said that "we reaffirm our commitment to collective actions and confirm that the unilateral actions taken now with regard to trade and economic sanctions against Iran are certainly not helping the continuation of collective efforts." On October 31, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kamynin said that Russia has no interest in forming an international "Holy Alliance" using missile defense against Iran "based on the dogmatic logic that Iran is an enemy." The daily "Kommersant" wrote on October 31 that Lavrov made his "unexpected lightning" visit to Iran in "one last attempt to talk some sense into Tehran." The paper noted that he tried to convince President Mahmud Ahmadinejad of the seriousness of the situation Iran will face if it fails to comply with UN Security Council demands and abandon uranium enrichment. The daily suggested that "if Tehran decides to cooperate with the international community, Moscow has promised it a sensational gift" of direct talks with Washington. "Kommersant" argued that Russia feels that it, along with Iran, will be hurt by the new U.S. sanctions and therefore wants Tehran to comply with UN demands. The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on November 1 that Russia is anxious to put an end to the Iranian nuclear imbroglio by persuading Tehran to stop its enrichment program, even on a temporary basis. PM

Officials of the German government and the company Lufthansa Cargo, which is the freight subsidiary of Lufthansa airlines, say they have no idea why the Russian authorities announced on October 28 a de facto ban on Lufthansa Cargo's flights over Siberia en route to Asia, including its hub at Astana, Kazakhstan, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on November 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007). A spokesman for the German Transportation Ministry told the daily that Russia claimed that the agreement regarding overflights has expired and that no new flights can take place until it is replaced. The spokesman added, however, that a new agreement was, in fact, recently concluded. He stressed that "the ink was barely dry on it" when the Russians, in effect, backed out of it without giving any real reason. The paper noted that some German observers feel that Russia, which already charges high Siberian overflight fees, wants to "cash in" on the lucrative commerce between Europe and Asia even more in some unspecified form. Lufthansa Cargo denied Russian suggestions that it is behind in paying its overflight bills. The Frankfurt daily reported that, immediately after the Russians banned the overflights, German officials quickly imposed and then rescinded on October 29 a ban on cargo flights by Aeroflot to the Frankfurt-Hahn airport. Some sources suggested that the German decision to lift the ban was a goodwill gesture to Moscow. Other sources indicated that the Frankfurt-Hahn airport administration appealed to Kurt Beck, who heads the Social Democratic Party (SPD), to use his influence with Transportation Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee (SPD) to end a ban that could cost the airport one of its most important clients. The paper noted that the high costs charged by Moscow for Siberian overflights have been a thorny issue for European airlines for over 20 years that is unlikely to go away soon. PM

"The Moscow Times" reported on November 1 that Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov instructed Russian Navy chief Vladimir Vysotsky to draft a plan to move the navy headquarters from Moscow to the historical Admiralty and neighboring buildings in St. Petersburg. The paper noted that the move, if confirmed, would be "the latest instance of a federal institution being shifted to the former capital -- and President Putin's hometown." The Defense Ministry and the navy did not comment on or take calls regarding the story, which was first reported by the daily "Kommersant" on the basis of unspecified Defense Ministry sources on October 31. PM

More details are emerging of Unified Russia's campaign tactics around the country, as researched by Transparency International and the NGO Golos, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on October 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). The activists told journalists in Moscow that they have collected a wide range of free "gifts" being distributed all over the county by the pro-Kremlin party, including gloves, lids for canning jars, backpacks, books, notebooks, and bottles of vodka. The Central Election Commission has ruled that items costing less than 400 rubles ($16) are permissible if they do not contain direct appeals to vote for a particular party. As a result, they do not fall under campaign rules and are not limited by campaign spending restrictions. Activist Yelena Panfilova said cases have been documented where the gowns of municipal hospital workers have been decorated with wishes from Unified Russia for patients' speedy recovery. In Chelyabinsk, buildings undergoing repairs are festooned with signs claiming Unified Russia has donated 1 million rubles to municipal reconstruction. RC

Political analyst Aleksandr Kynev, director of regional programs for the Information Politics Foundation, told RFE/RL on October 31 that in the 2003 elections 31 Unified Russia candidates refused their mandates after that party won the election. By his estimate, that number will rise to 118 with the current list, which includes 65 governors, four federal ministers, 10 deputy governors and regional prime ministers, 26 mayors, and 12 heads of regional legislatures. He also noted that political competition in the current election cycle is less than it has been in any election since the Soviet period: in 1995, 43 parties participated; in 1999, 26; in 2003, 23; and in 2007, 11. Kynev also noted that many Unified Russia candidates are running from regions with which they have no discernible connection. RC

The investigation into the October 31 bombing of a bus in Toyatti that left eight dead and 63 wounded continues, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on November 1. Investigators are assessing the possibility that the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber on the bus. They are also looking into comparisons with the August 21, 2006, bombing of the Cherkizovsky Market in Moscow, which left 11 dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 23, and 24, 2006). The explosives used in both cases were described as "analogous." In the Moscow case, three men have been charged in the case, which has been described by investigators as "racially motivated." RFE/RL reports that local police and local journalists have been prevented from approaching the scene of the incident and that several journalists have had their film confiscated by Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives on the scene. Investigators are reportedly looking into the possibility that the explosion was a terrorist act carried out by fighters from the North Caucasus or that the explosives were being transported on the bus as part of a business dispute. Political analyst Aleksei Makarkin said a North Caucasus connection is possible, but it not the most likely scenario. "Before looking for a Chechen connection," he told RFE/RL, "or a Caucasus connection, you have to look around. I don't discount those possibilities, but first of all we should think about the fact that Tolyatti is a deeply criminalized city, a place of loud criminal conflicts." RC

The Duma is drafting a plan to drastically reduce the number of its committees, "Gazeta" reported on November 1. The plan is to cut the number from the current 29 to just 16, once for each government ministry. According to the paper's sources, some of the committees will be combined and enlarged. Political analyst Markarkin told the daily that deputies fight to get on the main financial committees, which are considered the most lucrative from the perspective of "lobbying activity." He said that in 2003 almost half of all Duma deputies applied to be on the Budget Committee. The tabloid "Tvoi den" on November 1 reported that President Putin has asked St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko to serve as the speaker of the Duma after the December legislative elections. According to the report, current Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, the leader of Unified Russia, will be asked to head the Security Council. RC

A wave of "spontaneous" demonstrations calling for President Putin to serve a third term as president or to otherwise remain the country's leader following the expiry of his current term in March 2008 is continuing, "Vremya novostei" reported on October 31. Since October 23, such demonstrations have been held in Volgograd, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Grozny, Voronoezh, Pskov, Novosibirsk, and Magadan, the daily reported. In addition, numerous local legislatures have passed resolutions calling for a third term for Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2003). The legislature in Tyumen Oblast went one step further and sent an appeal to all other regional legislatures in Russia urging them to adopt similar measures. RC

The Novosibirsk branch of the FSB is investigating as illegal campaign activity a free-distribution newspaper that appeared recently in some local mailboxes, reported on November 1. A local officer was quoted as saying the paper consists almost entirely of "compromising materials against the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, A Just Russia, and Unified Russia." The FSB complaint also charged that the last page of the newspaper contained jokes about those parties and about President Putin signed "from [Communist Party leader] Gennady Zyuganov." A local Communist official said the newspaper was previously approved by the local election commission. Zyuganov has reportedly sent a letter to FSB Chairman Nikolai Patrushev expressing the hope that "at least the highest echelons" still have a sense of humor. Novosibirsk Oblast is considered an important battleground, since the Communists did well there in the last legislative elections and the Communist candidate in the 2004 presidential election actually outpolled Putin in several districts. RC

Police in Moscow on October 31 raided the headquarters of Promsvyazbank, the country's 13th largest, "The Moscow Times" and other Russian media reported. A bank employee told the daily that the raid was "connected with the activities of one of our clients." Promsvyazbank is controlled by brothers Aleksei and Dmitry Ananyev, whose fortunes are estimated at about $1.7 billion each. Dmitry is a member of the Federation Council and the head of its Committee on Financial Markets and Monetary Policy. He has close connections with Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and is a funder of the A Just Russia party. RC

The local branches of eight Russian political parties, including the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia, have addressed open letters to President Putin and to newly appointed federal envoy to the Southern Federal District Grigory Rapota on the 15th anniversary of the start of the clashes between Ingush and Ossetians in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodny Raion. In their address to Putin, which was posted on October 31 on the website, they pointed out that his instructions to the federal government to complete by the end of 2006 the repatriation to Prigorodny Raion and Vladikavkaz of those Ingush who were forced to flee their homes during the fighting was never implemented. They advocated new and unconventional measures to normalize the situation, including establishing in Prigorodny Raion a temporary administration comprising federal officials from other parts of Russia and excluding both Ossetians and Ingush. In their address to Rapota, dated October 30, the eight parties highlighted and branded a threat to stability and security across the North Caucasus what they termed the obstructionist approach of the North Ossetian authorities to the repatriation of the Ingush. They appealed to Rapota to take the necessary measures to expedite the repatriation process, and also to improve the security situation in Prigorodny Raion and Vladikavkaz, where 22 Ingush have been abducted and disappeared without trace over the past two years. Also on October 31, Ruslan Aushev, who served as Ingushetian president from 1992-2002, appealed to his co-ethnics to demonstrate "courage, solidarity, and unity," and expressed the hope that following the failure of its "timid" efforts to enable the Ingush displaced persons to return to Prigorodny Raion, the federal center will adopt a more "complex" approach to resolving the problem, reported. LF

In comments broadcast on Armenian television on October 31, President Robert Kocharian dismissed as "filled with malice" harsh criticisms of the present leadership voiced at a rally in Yerevan on October 26 by his predecessor, Levon Ter-Petrossian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007 and upcoming "RFE/RL Caucasus Report"). Kocharian accused Ter-Petrossian and his Armenian Pan-National Movement of destroying the country's economy within a few years of coming to power and bequeathing him in 1998 "a country with a ruined economy." He downplayed the impact on Armenia in the early 1990s of the collapse of the Soviet command economy. Hrant Bagratian, who served as prime minister under Ter-Petrossian from 1993-96, dismissed Kocharian's criticism of the HHSh leadership as "a deliberate lie," pointing out in an interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service Armenia's victory in the Karabakh war, his implementation of liberal economic reform, and the volume of reconstruction during those years in the northern regions of the country devastated by the December 1988 earthquake. Also on October 31, tax police raided the offices in Giumri of the privately-owned Gala television station, one of only two that defied government orders not to broadcast a speech made by Ter-Petrossian in September that similarly criticized the Kocharian regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). LF

Kocharian also said on October 31 that he does not share the optimism expressed by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen over the prospect of an interim agreement on resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. Visiting Baku and Yerevan last week, the co-chairmen said there is a chance -- estimated at less than 50 percent -- that Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev could soon conclude a "gentlemen's agreement," in verbal not written form, on the basic principles for resolving the conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). Kocharian admitted that unspecified progress has been made, but he added that repeated bellicose statements by Azerbaijani politicians constitute a threat that Armenia's policy must address. LF

Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes passed sentence on October 31 on former Economic Development Minister Farxad Aliyev, his brother Rafik, chairman of the board of the Azerpetrol group of companies, and 17 other people accused of expropriation of state property, illegal business activity, tax evasion, accepting bribes, and abuse of their official position, and reported. Farxad Aliyev was sentenced to 10 years' and Rafik Aliyev to nine years' imprisonment. The two men were arrested two years ago; Farxad Aliyev was initially accused of plotting a coup d'etat, but that charge was soon shelved. He repeatedly protested his innocence and his loyalty to President Aliyev, to whom he is not related. Lawyers for the two men said they will appeal the sentences and objected that the entire trial was based on unsubstantiated allegations. Human-rights activist Novella Jafararoglu likewise said the prosecution's case was "illiterate" and the sentence on Farxad Aliyev excessive, reported on November 1. LF

Meeting on October 31 to discuss the implications of the standoff the previous day in the Abkhaz conflict zone between Russian peacekeepers and Georgian police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007), the Georgian government and parliament leadership decided to revoke unilaterally the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the conflict zone, Georgian media reported. Earlier on October 31, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a formal statement requesting that the CIS Executive Committee and the Russian Foreign Ministry recall the commander of the Russian peacekeeping force, Major General Sergei Chaban, whom Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on October 30 declared persona non grata on Georgian territory. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on November 1 quoted unnamed Georgian parliamentarians as saying the Georgian authorities have already approached unnamed Western states with a request to deploy a substitute peacekeeping force. In Sukhum(i), capital of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, de facto Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said in a statement posted on the presidential website ( on October 31 that while Georgia has the right to demand the Russian peacekeepers' withdrawal, the international community is unlikely to agree to a move that would inevitably undermine the "fragile" stability in the conflict zone. He warned that the peacekeepers' departure would result not in local clashes but in a full-scale war. Meanwhile, Chaban's assistant Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Diordiyev was quoted by on October 31 as saying that a helicopter belonging to the Russian peacekeeping force was fired on the previous day from the training camp at Ganmukhuri in western Georgia where the standoff took place. LF

A regional commander of the Kazakh Border Service, Talgat Esetov, announced on October 31 the reinforcement of border guards along Kazakhstan's border with Uzbekistan, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. A new detachment of border guards was deployed along the 800-kilometer southern Kazakh border in order "to improve the operational management and the quality" of securing the border. Speaking to reporters in the city of Shymkent, Esetov also noted the construction of six new border posts along the Kazakh-Uzbek border, Kazakhstan Today reported. He also reported that the construction of an additional eight border guard posts and a new housing facility for the border guards are planned by 2010. The effort to secure the border with Uzbekistan is part of a broader campaign to combat the proliferation of drugs and weapons and to bolster Kazakhstan's counterterrorism operations in the area. RG

The Mazhilis, or lower house of Kazakhstan's parliament, on October 31 ratified a military transit accord with Germany, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The accord provides German troops with the right to transit Kazakh territory and covers the passage "by railway or air" of both military personnel and equipment as part of the German contribution to military operations in Afghanistan. The agreement, first signed in Berlin in February 2007, will now be submitted to the Kazakh Senate for consideration, but is widely expected to pass overwhelmingly. RG

Arriving in Astana following a visit to Kyrgyzstan, Robert Simmons, the special representative of the NATO secretary-general for the South Caucasus and Central Asia, met on October 31 with Kazakh Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. They reviewed implementation of the country's Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), a framework document laying out Kazakhstan's evolving relationship with NATO. Akhmetov hailed "cooperation between Kazakhstan and NATO" as having "huge potential," which can "effectively influence the processes of strengthening regional and international security, including the strengthening of a dialogue and cooperation in reforms in the defense sphere and training military personnel." In addition to being a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program (PfP), Kazakhstan also holds regular consultations with NATO through the alliance's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. RG

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Kazakhstan's Aktyubinsk region, Almat Imangaliev, confirmed on October 31 that the authorities extradited a suspected militant on October 27 to Russia, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Imangaliev said that the man, a suspected Chechen rebel wanted by Russia on charges of terrorism, was arrested by Kazakh security forces in the Aktyubinsk region on July 25. RG

In a press conference in Almaty, opposition "Svoboda slova" newspaper editor Gulzhan Yergalieva, announced on October 31 that her paper, along with four others, faces closure after several publishing houses refused to print them, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Yergalieva noted that the opposition "Vzglyad," "Taszhargan," and "Respublika" newspapers were unable to secure a printer for their next issues and accused the Kazakh authorities of pressuring the publishers "not to print" the newspapers. A representative of the opposition "Taszhargan" newspaper, Rozlana Taukina, added that although the staff is "preparing" the newspaper's next edition and "will make an effort to publish," it is uncertain "where and how it will be published." The editors also accused the authorities of using the tax police to exert pressure on them, citing visits of tax officials to several of the newspapers on October 30. The Adil Soz group, a foundation for the protection of freedom of speech, also expressed on October 31 its "concern over the situation" and circulated a statement in support of the opposition media at the news conference. RG

Bakyt Seitov, a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry official, said on October 30 that the ministry's investigation of the murder of journalist Alisher Saipov uncovered "close links" between him and the banned Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) groups, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. Seitov also said that Saipov reportedly met with IMU leader Tohir Yoldoshev in April or May, suggesting that the journalist "received money on a regular basis" from the IMU, and that police found Hizb ut-Tahrir "material" on his personal computer. Seitov also said that the slain journalist "had links with" the leader of Uzbekistan's Erk opposition party, Muhammad Solih. Saipov was killed in Osh on October 24 by an unknown gunman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007), and although another unidentified security official also recently said that police now believe that members of Hizb ut-Tahrir may have ordered his killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007), initial suspicion centered on Uzbekistan, as Saipov often reported on official corruption in Uzbekistan and was recently strongly criticized by the Uzbek state media. RG

Reacting to Interior Ministry spokesman Seitov's allegations that Saipov had "close links" to a banned Islamist group, Adil Turdukulov, a senior member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, on October 31 strongly criticized the Interior Ministry, saying that it "caved in to pressure" from the Uzbek authorities, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz and Uzbek services reported. Turdukulov warned that "good neighborly relations" should not be allowed to hinder an "unbiased" investigation into Saipov's murder, and he added that the ministry's allegations are "full of biased and politically motivated interpretations." He also called on the police to stop "manipulating the findings and misleading the population" and to bring the killer or killers to justice. Daniil Kislov, a former colleague of the murdered journalist and the administrator of the Moscow-based website, also accused the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry of "deliberately trying to blacken our friend's name." RG

Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Abdulla Oripov confirmed on October 31 that a group comprised of a South Korean and a Japanese telecommunications firm will take over Uzbekistan's primary Internet service provider, according to the Uzbek National News Agency's website. Oripov, who also serves as the director-general of the Uzbek state agency for communication and information, said that the move stemmed from the strategic goal of "attracting foreign investment in various spheres of the economy." According to the terms of the deal released by Oripov, the Korea Telecom group and Japan's Sumitomo Corporation have agreed to purchase, for an undisclosed sum, an 85 percent share of the country's East Telecom Internet service provider, with the remaining 15 percent stake to be retained by the state-affiliated Uzbektelecom company. RG

A group of Belarusian opposition politicians has sent an appeal to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka asking him to free imprisoned former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, Belapan reported on October 31. Kazulin, who ran in the March 2006 elections, was arrested during antigovernment demonstrations that followed the polls, and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison for organizing events that disturbed the public order. The appeal was signed by United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, Belarusian Popular Front deputy head Viktar Ivashkevich, Belarusian Party of Communists leader Syarhey Kalyakin, and Youth Front activist Pavel Sevyarynets, among others. They urged Lukashenka to "show civil courage and honesty, and use your power for good -- the immediate release of Kazulin from prison." Kazulin's daughter, Volha Kazulina, has sent a similar appeal to Lukashenka. According to Kazulin's former lawyer, Ihar Rynkevich, judicial authorities are prepared to review Kazulin's case, which he described as politically motivated, but cannot make a move without approval from Lukashenka. AM

Pavel Yakubovich, the editor in chief of "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," the largest state-run newspaper, said on October 31 at the Israeli Foreign Ministry that President Lukashenka's recent comments about Jews should be regarded as "a joke" and "not serious," Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said the matter has been resolved. Addressing a group of Russian journalists on October 12, Lukashenka said Jewish residents had turned the city of Babruysk in Mahilyou Oblast into a "pigsty" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18, 2007). Yakubovich said that Lukashenka's remarks should be assessed as "anything but anti-Semitic," adding that accusations of anti-Semitism insulted the president. AM

Viktor Yushchenko on October 31 welcomed the idea of signing a new declaration of national unity, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko said that the postelection situation in Ukraine provides a unique opportunity for politicians to turn away from past disagreements in favor of mutual understanding and cooperation. "As president, I respect the election winners and will respect the opposition," Yushchenko said, adding that the ruling coalition and the opposition should determine the format of their mutual relations. "If it's necessary to divide the seats in the leadership of parliament, I will be the first who supports such a strategy. If it's necessary to divide the seats in the leadership of the government, I will support that too," he said. Party of Regions lawmaker Yuriy Myroshnychenko recently said that key Ukrainian politicians should return to the idea of the declaration of national unity, which was signed in August 2006 to defuse the coalition-building crisis that followed the parliamentary elections that March. AM

Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko announced on October 31 that UkrGazEnergo, a Ukrainian-registered joint venture between RosUkrEnergo and Ukraine's state-owned gas company, Naftohaz Ukrayiny, has paid its parent company RosUkrEnergo a large part of the $920 million debt owed for Russian gas supplies to Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. Under the current supply scheme, RosUkrEnergo -- a Swiss-registered joint venture between Gazprom and Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash -- buys gas from Russian gas giant Gazprom, delivers it to Ukrainian border, and sells it to UkrGazEnergo. UkrGazEnergo incurred massive debts to RosUkrEnergo because of incomplete payments by Ukrainian gas consumers. In early October, Gazprom announced that it would decrease its gas supplies to Ukraine if UkrGazEnergo failed to pay its debts by the end of the month. AM

Miroslav Lajcak has won backing for his reform efforts from the group that appointed him as the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC). According to international and local media, the group, which comprises 55 states and international agencies overseeing Bosnia's postwar development, on October 31 supported his "decisions and proposed actions," and specifically his planned changes to the quorum needed to pass decisions in government and legislation in parliament. "The only objective of these measures is to streamline the decision-making process in the [federal] Council of Ministers and the parliament and they are necessary to speed up the reform process," the PIC said in a statement released at the end of a two-day meeting in Sarajevo. "Decisions of the high representative must be fully respected and promptly implemented," it said, adding that "in particular, the PIC Steering Board calls upon Serb Republic [Republika Srpska] leaders to abide by their obligations." Bosnian Serbs have been incensed by Lajcak's vow that, on December 1, he will force through changes that would prevent executive and legislative decisions being blocked by absent ministers and parliamentarians, arguing that the changes are part of a broader challenge to the autonomous region's continued existence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007). Speaking at a news conference on October 31, Lajcak said, "reactions to my decisions are out of proportion and have caused an artificial crisis that could stop any progress." AG

The PIC's decision was endorsed by Russia, which added a note to the statement in which it criticized Lajcak's timing. Lajcak should seek to improve the performance of Bosnia's institutions "in a more stable context," it said, arguing that the Slovak diplomat is ignoring the "growing tensions in the Balkans." Bosnia's political scene is, arguably, more unstable than at any time since the end of the war, and the region is bracing itself for the effects of a decision on the future of Kosova. Prior to the meeting, Russia's ambassador in Sarajevo, Konstantin Shuvalov, blamed Lajcak for the deteriorating political situation in Bosnia, criticized him for his "maximal use of the mechanisms of outside influence," cast doubt on his motivations, and noted that Lajcak's predecessors did not voice similar objections to the decision-making mechanisms in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). Shuvalov's criticisms were not echoed in the PIC statement. AG

An upcoming EU report will indicate that Croatia is the only western Balkan state that can hope to join the EU in the next five years, the "Financial Times" reported on October 30. The report, which the "Financial Times" has seen, said that membership talks with Croatia are "are advancing well and are entering a decisive phase," despite Brussels' reservations about its treatment of its Serbian community. Macedonia is behind only Croatia on the path to membership, but the country has suffered from a "slowdown in reforms" owing to "frequent tension and problems in achieving constructive dialogue between major political actors." Two other countries in the region, Albania and Montenegro, have taken the first step towards membership by signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA). Brussels sees "financial transactions beyond the banking system" -- transactions susceptible to money laundering -- as a problem in Montenegro, "especially in relation to real estate and foreign investment." Throughout the region, the European Commission found, reforms are being slowed by corruption, organized crime, and ethnic tensions. Its assessment of the region's economic progress is better, noting that "the degree of economic integration with the EU is already high and growing." AG

Nearly three in four Serbs would like to see Serbia join the EU, but 70 percent would refuse an offer of earlier membership in exchange for recognition of Kosova as an independent state, a poll commissioned by Serbia's ministry for Kosovar affairs has found, Reuters reported on October 31. The EU has never offered such a deal in public and insists that the issues of Serbia's EU prospects and Kosova's status are not linked, but Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has said in the past that he has received such offers in private. He described them as "indecent" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2007). The poll, which was published on October 31, found that while 72 percent want Serbia to become an EU member, 61 percent believe it should not join NATO. Kostunica and his party, one of three members of the governing coalition, oppose membership of the military alliance and on October 28 passed a resolution calling for Serbia to remain neutral (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). Asked what they believe the future of Kosova should be, 57 percent said the technically Serbian province should remain Serbian but enjoy autonomy, while nearly 28 percent believe the province should be partitioned. AG

EU membership is and must remain Serbia's primary foreign-policy goal, Serbian President Boris Tadic said on October 30, Serbian television reported. Membership is the only way that Serbia will achieve its national interests and economic goals, he said. Tadic maintained his opposition to independence for Kosova, but also acknowledged the potential impact of the dispute over Kosova's future on Serbia's EU prospects, saying the crisis could affect the EU hopes of the entire region. Prime Minister Kostunica on October 25 said that Serbia's top priorities are continued sovereignty over Kosova and the preservation of the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated region of Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). AG

Armed groups have been stopping cars along a stretch of road close to Macedonia's border with Kosova, Macedonian media and the news service Balkan Insight have reported. Macedonian radio said the men were wearing the uniforms of the National Liberation Army (UCK), an ethnic-Albanian militia that fought in Macedonia's separatist conflict in 2001. The reports first emerged on October 30, but witnesses told Balkan Insight that armed men began several weeks ago to stop cars traveling along the Poroj-Jazince road and check the identity of passengers. The area, near Tetovo, lies in the heart of an area populated by ethnic Albanians and not far from where a policeman was killed by an armed gang on October 25 when his car was fired upon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). The Macedonian government maintained after that incident that the security situation remains stable and speculated that the gunmen were smugglers. It has yet to comment on the reports of ethnic-Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) patrols. In another unexplained recent incident in northern Macedonia, five employees of Macedonia's dominant energy supplier, ESM-EVN, were kidnapped on October 27 and held captive for a number of hours. There have also been reports of militia patrols in neighboring Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5 and 15, 2007). AG

Four war crimes suspects have been arrested in recent days in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Three were seized in Bosnia on October 30 and named as Ljupko Savic, Mirko "Spiro" Pekez, and Mirko "Mile" Pekez, local media reported. The three, who are all ethnic Serbs, are suspected of taking part in September 1992 in the killing of 23 Bosnian Muslims in the region of Jajce. On October 29, the Croatian authorities arrested an ethnic Serb whom they suspect was a member of an armed separatist force implicated in the disappearance of a Croatian policeman in 1991. He has not been named. AG

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on October 30 lodged an appeal to increase the sentences passed on two ethnic Serbs found to have been involved in the slaughter of 264 Croats and other non-Serbs near the Croatian town of Vukovar, Croatian media reported. The sentences -- 20 years for the Serbian forces' commander, Mile Mrksic, and five years for another senior commander, Veselin Sljivancanin -- caused outrage in Croatia and prompted Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader to take his protests to the UN General Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1 and 16, 2007). However, the prosecutors' new move, which could address some of the Croats' complaints, has also been controversial, as the prosecutors have not asked the ICTY to overturn the acquittal of a third man who stood trial for the same crime, Miroslav Radic. According to the news agency Hina, Croatian President Stjepan Mesic on October 31 joined the Croatian government in calling for an appeal to be lodged against Radic's acquittal. The case has revived long-standing criticism in Croatia of the ICTY as an institution. According to Hina, the UN-mandated tribunal came in for further criticism on October 31 from the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, one of whose members, Zarko Puhovski, said that war crimes trials in Belgrade and Zagreb are fairer than those at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. However, Puhovski added that Zagreb and Belgrade would not have launched cases but for the creation of the ICTY. AG

Serbia's and Montenegro's top prosecutors agreed on October 31 to deepen cooperation to find and convict war crimes suspects, the news agency Mina reported. The deal, which also covers other serious crimes, primarily facilitates the exchange of information. Vesna Medenica, Montenegro's state prosecutor, said that "the Office for War Crimes in Belgrade is far ahead of us and has vast experience which can be of assistance to us, as we also have, although not as many as them, war crimes cases." The two countries' security services have in the past half-year successfully cooperated in capturing one of six men wanted at the time by the ICTY, Vlastimir Djordjevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). Montenegro has also carried out operations aimed at locating one of the four who remain on the run, Radovan Karadzic, the political leader of Bosnia's Serbs during the civil war. Among the war crimes cases being brought by Montenegrin prosecutors is one that is just starting, the prosecution of six reservists in the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) for crimes committed in 1992-93 against civilians in a detention camp in the Montenegrin village of Morinj. AG


In three days of clashes in southern Afghanistan, some 50 Taliban were killed and another 50 wounded, with 12 arrested, according to Kandahar Province police chief Sayed Aqa Saqib, AFP reported on October 31. He said that civilians are leaving villages in the Arghandab district, on the outskirts of Kandahar city, due to continued fighting, but that "operations were very carefully planned so as not to harm civilians." Afghan and NATO forces reportedly launched a "clean-up" operation in Arghandab district to clear the area of Taliban insurgents on October 30. Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Qari Yusof Ahmadi claimed that the insurgents have captured the district, though this has been denied by Afghan forces and NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). MM

During his weekly press conference in Kabul on October 30, presidential spokesman Homayun Hamidzada rejected and condemned allegations of Afghanistan's involvement in the Swat Valley unrest in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. A senior Pakistani official in the region, Shamsul Mulk, accused both Afghanistan and India of fomenting uprisings in the volatile region, where Taliban-affiliated militants are attacking Pakistani government assets and security personnel. The militants are led by Mullah Fazlullah, a leader of the Tehrik Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi, a banned pro-Taliban group that has been targeted by the Pakistani military in the past. Hamidzada said that Afghanistan wants peace and prosperity in Pakistan and would never indulge in activities that could undermine relations between the two countries. MM

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering of thousands of students in Tehran on October 31 that U.S. accusations that Iran is meddling in Iraqi affairs and is responsible for some U.S. personnel fatalities there are "total lies," and that it is "America's idiotic policies" that are causing those deaths, IRNA reported. He told student members of the Basij militia, a volunteer force affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, that "the American government is being criticized by its people for these policies, but deceitfully accuses Iran, because it has no answer." He said, "the main agent of insecurity in the Middle is America, and it is America's interventions in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine that have caused instability." He said people around the world are aware of these policies, which is why there are "extensive popular demonstrations" whenever U.S. officials visit abroad, and this testifies to the United States' "isolation and the collapse of its superpower aura." Khamenei accused "arrogant powers" led by the United States of trying to curb Iran's technological and nuclear advances. VS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on October 31 formally presented to parliament his nominees to head the Industries and Mines Ministry and the Oil Ministry. They are the acting ministers, Ali Akbar Mehrabian and Gholamhussein Nozari, Radio Farda reported, citing Iran reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13 and October 9, 2007). Parliament is to debate their approval in the coming days. VS

President Ahmadinejad has said he will soon send provincial governors lists of "weak and indifferent" officials, of whom the most incompetent must be dismissed, Radio Farda reported on October 30, citing Iranian media. His decision was announced at an October 29 meeting between provincial governors and the central government. Ahmadinejad said the confidential list was written after months of investigations into letters of complaint written by members of the public, Radio Farda reported. "The people have written us letters or made requests" which were investigated by the central government, he told the governors, and they have also sent requests to other state bodies. He said some provincial agencies responded well to public complaints, but told the provincial governors they must immediately dismiss the worst-performing officials when they receive their names on a "blacklist," as well as admonishing underperformers and publicly rewarding others who have worked well. Radio Farda noted that the dismissals are not surprising, as Ahmadinejad has changed several ministers and officials since his 2005 election. It observed that the move may be for publicity, as the president is about to undertake another set of provincial tours, touted as bringing him into direct contact with Iranians in the provinces. VS

President Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on October 31 that it is "natural" to dismiss incompetent or failed administrators, IRNA reported. "Ahmadinejad is not shy with anyone," he told reporters after a cabinet meeting. He added that after his last provincial visits, officials who had contact with the public were divided into three groups according to performance, and about 45 of the worst performers "must be dismissed." He separately said that he likes dialogue, when asked if he is willing to debate against previous presidents who have faced allegations of incompetence and complacency from Ahmadinejad and his political allies. Asked about the October 16 Caspian conference in Tehran, he said it did not address the legal division of the Caspian Sea, in spite of media reports claiming that that was the aim of the conference. "The Caspian Sea's division has no legal meaning," Ahmadinejad said. He said the conference issued a closing statement that indicated items of agreement between the participants. "What we have concerning the Caspian Sea are bilateral agreements between countries regarding their common borders, which have to be demarcated. There was no question of dividing the Caspian Sea," he said. VS

Iranian authorities arrested seven students at an October 30 protest held by some 600-1,000 students from various universities on the grounds of Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, Radio Farda reported. The demonstration was held to protest perceived repression and restrictions against students, the arrests of student activists in recent months, the expulsion of various academics, and the suspension of students for alleged misconduct. The "Amir Kabir newsletter" published at Tehran's Amir Kabir University put the number of arrests at up to 20, though many of those detained were apparently later released, Radio Farda reported. Student activist Rashid Esmaili told Radio Farda that three students arrested by police or plainclothes agents were Arman Sedaqati from Amir Kabir, Maziar Samii from Allameh Tabatabai, and Behnam Sepehrmand, a member of the nationwide student grouping Office to Consolidate Unity (DTV). Esmaili said students chanted slogans including "Death to the Dictator"-- a slogan heard at several student protests in recent months -- and carried banners calling for the release of three jailed students from Amir Kabir University (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). VS

Jomekhan Gumshazdehi, an "international trafficker" convicted of killing nine Iranian policemen, was hanged on October 30 at the main prison in Zahedan in the southeastern province of Sistan va Baluchistan, "Iran" reported the next day. He was arrested in the summer of 2007 in Tehran while trafficking 3 tons of drugs, a police colonel named as Hosseinabadi told "Iran." He said police have caught several accomplices and seized 10 tons of drugs since Gumshazdehi's arrest. Hosseinabadi said Gumshazdehi smuggled drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan in armed convoys that included fuel trucks. VS

The head of the Tehran-based AIDS Research Center [Markaz-i tahqiqat-i aids], Minu Mohrez, told ISNA on October 30 that there may be 96,000-100,000 Iranians infected with HIV who do not know they are infected and may be spreading the virus through sexual contacts. She indicated that the shared use of infected needles among drug addicts remains the leading cause of HIV infections in Iran. She said this is indicated by the fact that the majority of HIV-positive Iranians are drug-using men, and the virus is not evenly divided between men and women, as in many countries. Mohrez condemned the Iranian media's silence on the disease. "They struggle to mention the word condom," she said. Iran's religious laws forbid sexual relations outside matrimony. "How much longer will the silence continue? How much longer are you going to tell people AIDS is transmitted by going to foreign countries and by foreigners? Why don't they tell people to take care [inside Iran]? Why is there such a negative view of using preventive measures?" she asked. Mohrez said 16,090 Iranians have been diagnosed as HIV-positive, and 2,121 have died from AIDS. She praised the government for opening drug rehabilitation centers providing addicts with edible drugs to reduce needle use. VS

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell announced on October 31 that the U.S. military is providing Turkey with intelligence on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) positions along the Turkey-Iraq border, international media reported the same day. "We are assisting the Turks in their efforts to combat the PKK by supplying them with intelligence, lots of intelligence," Morell said. "The key for any sort of military response from the Turks or anyone else is having actionable intelligence and that's a pretty high standard, and we are making efforts to help them get actionable intelligence," he added. Meanwhile, the Turkish military issued a statement the same day saying that it has killed 15 PKK fighters in clashes in the Cudi Mountains near the Iraqi border. SS

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on October 31 that Turkey may seek to impose economic sanctions against northern Iraq in a bid to force the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) to pursue the PKK, "Today's Zaman" reported. "The strong economic structure that we have today is also a source of our economic and political strength," Erdogan said. "It should be known that we will not hesitate to use this power whenever it is necessary. We will do whatever is needed without hesitation," he added. Last week, the Turkish National Security Council recommended that the government take economic action against the Iraqi Kurds. Possible sanctions included cutting off electricity to northern Iraq and preventing goods from entering Iraq through the Hasbur border crossing. The KRG buys approximately 10 percent of its electricity from Ankara and is reliant on food imports from Turkey. Turkish leaders have repeatedly accused the KRG of protecting the rebel group. On October 30, Erdogan bluntly accused Kurdistan region President Mas'ud Barzani of aiding and abetting the PKK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007). SS

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari stressed on October 31 that the international conference on Iraq being held in Istanbul on November 1 should focus on Iraq's security, rather than tensions with Turkey, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported. He was speaking during a joint press conference with his visiting Iranian counterpart Manuchehr Mottaki in Baghdad. "We stressed that the conference must focus on Iraq's stability and security and not be distracted by the current tension with Turkey and the terrorist operations by the PKK," Zebari said. He also reiterated Iraq's willingness to cooperate with Ankara to prevent the PKK from harming Turkish interests. Furthermore, Zebari said he hopes Iran and the United States will resume direct talks concerning the situation in Iraq, and stressed that Baghdad is ready to host another round of talks. "We discussed the need to resume U.S.-Iranian-Iraqi dialogue, which we view as useful for our two countries and the entire region. Any halt to these talks will not produce any positive results," he said. SS

During an interview with Al-Sharqiyah television on October 30, Khalaf al-Ulayyan, a member of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Accordance Front, accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government of opposing efforts at national reconciliation. "We believe that the side that obstructs national reconciliation is the government itself," Al-Ulayyan said. "This is because the government is trying to contact some sides that have nothing to do with national reconciliation and that have no weight in the Iraqi [political] arena. However, in an attempt to delay and obstruct this [reconciliation] process, it tries to contact these sides." The front earlier issued a statement condemning the Iraqi parliament's confirmation of two ministerial nominees, saying the vote was illegitimate due to lackof a quorum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007). Members of the Sunni bloc have repeatedly accused the Shi'a-led government of pursuing a sectarian agenda that seeks to marginalize the Sunni Arab population. SS

The U.S. military released a statement on October 31 saying that Iraqi special forces have detained an Al-Qaeda in Iraq network leader and three other suspects. The arrests were made during a raid in Khadra on October 29 with the assistance of U.S. Special Forces. The statement said that the Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader is suspected of leading terrorist groups involved in "conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces and terrorizing local civilians." "Coalition forces believe he and his network are involved in attacks on Iraqi infrastructure and medical facilities, including the burning of Iraq's main drug storehouse, which provided medicine to sick citizens," the statement added. SS

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh issued a statement on October 31 rejecting a warning by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the Mosul Dam along the Tigris River is in danger of imminent collapse, AFP reported. Al-Dabbagh described the allegations as "totally untrue" and insisted that "all precautionary measures in terms of maintenance are regularly carried out." The warning, included in a U.S. Special Inspector-General for Iraqi Construction report released on October 29, described the Mosul Dam as being "the most dangerous in the world." "A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad," the report warned. SS